Total contract with Cambodia needs scrutiny: watchdog

30th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

An environmental watchdog Friday urged Cambodia's donors to scrutinize multi-million-dollar payments by French oil company Total to secure the rights to explore an offshore area.

London-based Global Witness called on donors to "ask some tough questions and get some answers" about petroleum concession revenues, after Cambodian premier Hun Sen on Tuesday announced a 28-million-dollar contract with Total.

"We welcome the prime minister's openness on this latest round of oil payments," Global Witness campaigner George Boden said in a statement.

"But we still don't know whether the money from Total has turned up in national accounts because the information has not been made public," he added.

Total has won the right to search for oil and natural gas in Cambodia's offshore "Block 3" in the Gulf of Thailand.

While disclosing the price paid by Total, Hun Sen on Tuesday said that eight million dollars of the money would go towards a "social fund".

Hun Sen also denied that Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton had paid a large bribe for an exploration contract in Cambodia, saying that money had also gone into a social fund.

Global Witness said "questions regarding oil and mining payments made to the Cambodian government should top the bill" at a meeting of aid donors in June.

Foreign aid to Cambodia will top one billion dollars in 2010 when international donors make their pledges during the June meeting, said a local media report citing Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

Following the discovery of oil in 2005, Cambodia was quickly feted as the region's next potential petro-state.

But concerns have also been raised over how Cambodia -- one of the world's most corrupt countries -- will use its new-found oil and gas wealth.

In a February 2009 report, Global Witness said earnings from oil, gas and minerals were being "jeopardised by high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage".

© 2010 AFP

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